This past weekend I had the pleasure of hosting my son’s birthday party at the farm. For the first time in our long and drawn out Winter we had a day with sunshine and warmth, just below 0 degrees Celsius. A day to get outside and play. In today’s society it seems as though our children are always tuned into technology and less with the open spaces of our own backyards…and barnyards. My wife and I decided to have our son’s party unplugged at the farm. No smart phones, personal gaming devices, or any other form of technology, just sleds, snow wear, our means of locomotion, and an adventurous spirit.
I thought we’d start the party off with a brief tour of our livestock barns and introduce the kids to our animal companions on the farm. I knew I had a limited amount of time before the freedom of the farm drew them in different directions so I took them into the world of our heritage breed chickens. Being an educator I thought I’d pile them into the coop that contains our Plymouth Barred Rock chickens and then fire a bunch of questions at them on chickens. Although my son is fairly well-versed in poultry talk, I was unsure of what to expect from his friends. I started with a basic reproductive anatomy question, who lays the eggs, hens or roosters? It might sound like a simple question, but I can honestly tell you that I’ve had some people ask me if roosters lay eggs or if roosters are required for hens to lay eggs. Adults say the darndest! My son and his friends unanimously exclaimed, “the hens!” I continued on with a few more questions, awaiting the hand-raising reflex and the accompanying stares, and to my surprise they collectively knew the answer to nearly every question I posed to them. (Farmer pauses to smile). With the exception of knowing where they roosted during the night, my son and his friends were able to confidently give rational explanations and answers about where eggs come from, which birds were roosters/hens, where they laid their eggs, and where baby chickens are made.
After the chicken barn, we made our way into the beef/hay barn. First, we talked about how to behave around cattle so that they didn’t scare them or put themselves in harms way. They filed into the barn, one behind another, in to the rich organic smells of hay, dung, wood, and straw. I decided to change my interactive questions to something mathematical. I asked, “Who can estimate or guess how many cattle are in the barn?” Some minds started to count, others grouped, and some just scanned. In the end, after a very close guess, they got hotter until they nailed it, 27! Number sense is alive and well in this group of grade 1 friends. After a little chat about calving season being just around the corner and what cows eat, the kids made their way back to the hay pile. I found myself musing over the agricultural awareness that my son, daughter, and friends demonstrated. What a wonderful blessing to grow up in a rural area, connected to our food through ways of life like hunting, fishing, gardening, and farming. I would even argue that children today have a high measure of food awareness unlike what has been purported by Jamie Oliver in his food revolution in America. In our region, with respect to the aspect of where food comes from, I am compelled to believe that they have a high food awareness in that aspect. Understanding what not to put in their bodies, is another story.
Today’s society has been socially conditioned to accept the convenience of grocery stores and supermarkets, but this has broken the link between families and the true sources of food, farms. I jumped at the opportunity to share our family passion for farming when my son’s friends arrived for his birthday party. I didn’t take a didactic approach to highlight what they should know but rather we took time to celebrate what they did know and thereby make the farm a more inviting place to families who want to have a relationship with their family farmer. It’s time to place farmer in the same relationship status as knowing your family doctor, dentist, and pharmacist. Raising children who care for the lives of animals and the health of garden vegetables is the first step in changing the mentality about current food system and it’s degradation away from the once numerous small family farm into corporate monoculture. Biodiversity opens the mind to endless possibilities for our future generations on small family farms.
Martin Luther King in his involvement with the Civil Rights Movement suggested consumer boycotts to force change through non-violence. I think this idea can be embraced to a degree to perpetuate ways to support the struggles and labors of farmers in your local communities. Buying a months supply of meat from a nearby farmer, for example, diverts the flow of money directly into the producers hands, allowing them to pay bills and to continue to grow and raise food with a high level of transparency and in a manner where a sense of community is promoted around something as simple and necessary as food. Farm visits allow families to learn about the impacts of their decisions when buying locally. Who better to learn from about how food is raised than the farmer down the road. Grocery stores may have an assortment of conveniences and goods but nothing beats pulling a carrot from the ground or collecting eggs from nesting boxes. It’s this type of work that teaches an appreciation for the small family farm at an early age. I started spending time with my dad in the hayfield around the age of 3. True story.
In the days that followed my sons birthday party, I watched with a great deal of agape love as I considered the well-being of my two children. In front of me, they jumped from hay bale to hay bale, imploring me to catch them or chase them or watch them. My whole body smiled. They were playing exactly as I had when I was their age. I stand resolute in my convictions about doing the work I do on the family farm to make it something better for my children as they grow into adults. Both of them have a fondness for animals that is apparent in the kindness they show to others including their animal companions. My son is always trying feats of strength and my daughter has a magical way of showing love to the animals. This is not something you can teach, but it is something that you can foster. I know they’ll both be with me in the greenhouse in the next couple months as we prepare our transplants and i’m sure they’ll have something to teach me about agricultural awareness as time goes on. Perhaps, some day they’ll even have a chance to become involved in our birch syrup production on our farm woodlot.
Should any of you wish to have a tour of the farm with your children, you can contact us at the numbers provided on the website, 506-684-2297 or 506-685-7741. The best time of year is from the part of Spring when the ground has mostly dried and all of our seasonal operations are underway until our last harvest in fall when we have our pumpkin pick.